Thousands of Deutsche Bank employees will be replaced by robots

The CEO of Deutsche Bank said a "big number of staff will eventually be replaced by robots” as it looks towards artificial intelligence technology

Thousands of Deutsche Bank staff could lose their jobs as the German financial services giant replaces “people behaving like robots” with robots acting like people.

CEO John Cryan is reported to have told an audience at a conference in Frankfurt that a “big number” of the bank’s staff will lose their jobs as a result of new technology taking ove. The bank has around 100,000 employees.

He accused accountants as being like abacuses, saying the bank “won’t need as many people”.

“In our banks, we have people behaving like robots doing mechanical things. Tomorrow, we’re going to have robots behaving like people,” he added.

Cryan also said some roles will become more interesting and that the cuts to permanent staff might be less severe, with thousands of contractors being let go.

Technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation software is taking over many repetitive tasks at businesses, with the financial services sector leading the charge.

A report from financial services management consultancy Opimas predicted that, discounting acquisitions of startups, finance firms in the investment sector would spend $1.5bn on robotic process automation, machine learning, deep learning and cognitive analytics in 2017, increasing by 75% to $2.8bn in 2021.

Banking staff in customer services, back office processing and even those giving customers advice are at risk.

Robot revolution

HSBC recently announced it is using IBM AI technology to process documents related to international trade. Around 100 million pages of documents, such as invoices and insurance documents, are currently manually reviewed and processed by HSBC staff.

But it is already beyond the back office. For example, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is also working with IBM in piloting a robot that will answer customer questions and pass requests on to the right agents.

The Luvo cognitive chatbot, which uses IBM’s cloud-based Watson Conversation service, will be available to around 10% of RBS’s customers in Scotland in December as part of the customer pilot.

Meanwhile, Sweden’s SEB bank became the first bank to use IPsoft’s cognitive technology for customer services after the software robot proved successful in an internal IT service desk project.

But there is a human cost to these improvements. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) recently called on the UK government to make sure workers are not left out by technology-driven productivity gains.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Robots and AI could let us produce more for less, boosting national prosperity. But we need a debate about who benefits from this wealth, and how workers get a fair share,” she said.

Accelerated change creates uncertainty

A survey from YouGov of 11,362 people in nine countries earlier this year found that more than a quarter of workers believed 20% of their daily tasks could be automated through AI and robots, and 10% claimed up to 60% of their role could be taken over.

It also revealed that 45% of people globally expect AI technology to one day be capable of carrying out intangible – even creative – tasks.

This view is shared by the author Douglas Coupland, who wrote the novel Generation X: Tales for an accelerated culture, which tells the stories of a group of people born between the early 1960s and early 1980s.

Speaking to Computer Weekly in April 2017, Coupland said there was likely to be a period of uncertainty caused by the pace of change.

“People always say, ‘Don’t worry, we will invent new job categories’, and in the past this has been more or less the case. But we are dealing with algorithmic technologies that have no historical or ontological precedence,” he said.

“We are at this hyper-accelerated pace now. We are going to lose jobs faster than we create them, and during that different zone it is going to be very politically unstable. I hope governments have a plan B.”

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